Lessons in Chemistry Episode 6: Business Economics and Inequality

Lessons in Chemistry episode 6 Brie Larson and Stephanie Koenig
Brie Larson and Stephanie Koenig in Lessons in Chemistry, streaming now on Apple TV+.

The following review contains spoilers of Lessons in Chemistry Episode 6, “Poirot,” written by Elissa Karasik and directed by Millicent Shelton.

We begin this week’s episode of Lessons in Chemistry with a flashback into Elizabeth Zott’s (Brie Larson) past. This backstory was in the original novel by Bonnie Garmus; however, it was part of how the two lovebirds got to know each other and bonded in the first third of the book. Its use and placement in the Apple TV+ series feel slightly disconnected from the story. I understand that later in the episode, Elizabeth brings up her brother to  Madeline “Mad” Evans Zott (Alice Halsey), but that also felt like a snag in the flow of the story.

Deeper cracks form between Harriet Sloane (Aja Naomi King) and Charlie Sloane (Paul James) as he continues to work late shifts and disagrees with Harriet’s enthusiasm about a march in California, like the sit-ins in the South with Martin Luther King. However, at the protest, when Charlie sees firsthand how the police rough up some of his friends and neighbours, his worry about losing his job becomes minuscule in comparison to his fear of what could happen to Harriet. Their moment on the porch steps of their home is moving.

Lessons in Chemistry episode 6: Harriet Sloane (Aja Naomi King) front and centre facing the police officer braking up the protest. Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson) stands to her right. Paster Wakely (Patrick Walker) stands to her left.
Courtesy of Apple TV+

Lessons in Chemistry Episode 6 had a mission to show the disparity between Elizabeth’s progressive strides for white women on TV and the racism against Harriet, her family, and Black people across the country. Part of Elizabeth’s arc in this episode is her empathy for Harriet and her coworkers, which leads to her involvement in the march and protest of the freeway that threatens their predominately Black neighbourhood. As the episode’s central focus, these moments stand out but also feel flat. Compared to other portrayals of protests set during the Civil Rights movement, as harrowing as racism is regardless, this portrayal also felt tame.

The reaction from the audience at Supper at Six when Elizabeth announced she would be attending a protest was practically nonexistent. Aside from the producer, Phil Lebensmal (Rainn Wilson), putting the show on hiatus for four days, not much else indicated or accurately portrayed the racist sentiments of the time. I understand the desire to make our heroes appear as modernly perfect as possible, but how is it believable that there would be no heckling from the audience? I also had expected the crowd on the freeway to be larger, considering that an invite was broadcast on television.

Back of Walter Pine (Kevin Sussman), face of Fran Frask (Stephanie Koenig) and Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson) just after Elizabeth hires Fran on as her Chief of Staff.
Stephanie Koenig and Brie Larson in Lessons in Chemistry, now streaming on Apple TV+.

Elizabeth hiring Fran Frask (Stephanie Koenig) foreshadows a future coupling of her and Walter Pine (Kevin Sussman). I now firmly see that the writers’ room plans on maintaining a happy marriage for Harriet Sloane as opposed to the domestic abuse written in the novel. Fran and Walter will make for a beautiful power couple at the station. Hiring Fran as her Chief of Staff also gives Elizabeth a better insight into the studio’s management and a better idea of how to control her horrible producer. This strategy and business blackmail are tame in comparison to how Elizabeth dealt with the character in Bonnie Garmus’s novel with a knife and accidentally induced heart attack.

I look forward to seeing how this strategy keeps as success grows for Supper at Six. The new approach certainly uses more of Elizabeth Zott’s smarts and gives the character more purposeful agency over the situation.

I’m a little disappointed that they’ve let Elizabeth promote a product she doesn’t like. I think this is amiss to the character. I see how it’s been played as the lesser of two evils, but regardless, it’s still disappointing. I think there was an attempt to draw a comparison between the showmanship of Elizabeth and her father, but again, it felt disconnected from the episode’s themes. The real draw is Elizabeth’s older brother, John (Jackson Kelly), who unfortunately shoots himself because of his sexuality and the shame their father puts on him. It’s a very sad parable about the pain of hiding and being persecuted for something you can’t change.

From this perspective, I can see the parallels and the connections the writers’ room was trying to convey. However, how these stories were cut back and forth did not align with significance and meaning for me. Perhaps that is more on director Millicent Shelton than writer Elissa Karasik. I’m not sure. I know that the emotion I should have felt was not there. I also know that when Mad and Elizabeth were talking about Calvin in the bedroom, Elizabeth bringing out the box she kept for John felt random and out of place within the context—it looked more like convenient storytelling than strong storytelling.

Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson) and Madeline “Mad” Evans Zott (Alice Halsey) sitting at the end of Elizabeth's bed talking about Calvin.
Alice Halsey and Brie Larson in Lessons in Chemistry, now streaming on Apple TV+.

I liked Mad’s story in this episode, “Poirot.” I appreciated the inclusion of the Sloane children (played by Alana Gay and Hero Hunter), which expands and reinforces the narrative that these two families are close. Again, Alice Halsey is performing admirably with a hint of precociousness but not too much. Mad and Reverend Wakely (Patrick Walker) continue to have a friendship based on discovering more about Mad’s father, and FINALLY, it’s revealed that Wakely and Calvin were correspondent buddies. It’s a cliffhanger, but it’s exciting nonetheless.

I also like that Karasik has made Elizabeth more aware and empathetic to Mad’s curiosity. Larson and Halsey’s chemistry is strong, and I appreciate it being highlighted this way. With their storylines running mostly parallel as Mad searches for answers while her mom is at work, we rarely see these two actors interact. It makes the scenes even more impactful than their talent would be otherwise.

Written by Isobel Grieve

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *